By CCCNZ Camping Enabler Richard Davis
As I reflect on the past 12 months I’m drawn to a rather well-known but sometimes misused Scripture. ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).
It’s sometimes misused, when only that verse is mentioned, because the reality is that we need to look at the whole of Romans 8. This chapter describes how God is at work in a suffering world while also reminding us (those who are united in Christ) that we are being transformed by faith, that the Church is being transformed and that—because of the gospel—our suffering and hardship will come to an end.
Over the past year or two, camps have endured a fair bit of suffering and hardship—whether that be financial hardship, staffing losses, pressure on the wellbeing of leaders, loss of core ministry opportunities, and loss of connection to build relationships.
What has God been revealing?
Hardship and difficulty are realities of life, but it is what we learn from these times and our absolute trust in God’s timing that allows us to carry on moving forwards. And whilst we are still working in a COVID-19 pandemic period, God is still calling people to himself through this ministry we call Christian camping.
There is a desire to support one another, a desire to support our communities, a desire to build relationships with support ministries and churches, a desire to develop our people, a desire to be prepared to adapt, a desire to be visionary, and—above all else—to allow God to lead.
A snapshot of what God has been doing
Whilst COVID has affected everyone throughout New Zealand this has been a particularly difficult time for the communities of South Auckland. Tāmaki Community Church saw the need but didn’t have the resources to meet the need. In stepped Willow Park and their fantastic catering team. Willow Park had no camps running, and what better way to keep busy in the kitchen than to prepare weekly meals? This was an example of taking ministry ‘out of the box’ and a fantastic example of a church and a camp working together for the benefit of a local community.
After the Pasifika and Māori Leaders Dinner in Auckland in July, many who attended have raised an interest in how their churches might work closely with camps. These discussions are ongoing, but one result is that LifeChurch Manurewa are having their first ever Ladies Retreat at Willow Park. This has been made possible as Willow Park has a ‘pay as you are able’ or ‘koha’ scheme for CCCNZ churches. We trust that this will be of encouragement for other churches of all cultures to start to partner with camps.
Pacific Park is another camp which is seeking to serve local churches. The camp is unique in Christian camping, as it is also a motor camp accommodation provider and has an array of motel rooms, large meeting areas, and one of the best large spa pools around. They are providing a discount to churches who want to utilise the site and it is their vision that every weekend the camp is being used by church groups.
It has been a privilege to see churches and camps starting to work together in trying to solve long standing issues and needs—in particular, meeting the demands of evangelism and discipling new Christians and our youth. Hope Community Church, Grace Community Church and Tasman Church (all CCCNZ churches in the Nelson-Tasman Region) have always had a good relationship with Teapot Valley Christian Camp. However, they have recently started to embark on a journey working together to identify gaps, share resources, and provide training that will result in building a strong relationship for sharing the gospel.
Clark Road Chapel in Whangārei have previously used Marsden Bay Christian Camp (MBCC) as their base for hosting holiday camps. However, COVID put a stop to this over the past few years. This year MBCC partnered with Word of Life and CRC for winter camps, and saw some amazing results. Over 90 children attended, far exceeding their expectations and a number made decisions to follow Jesus.
MBCC Staff Member and CRC Youth Group Leader Matt Scott shared how he responded to a request and dropped off a Bible to one of the children after the camp. Matt was met by a tearful mother whose own faith journey had stalled and now the whole family is travelling 45 minutes to attend church and the children are loving the kids programme at CRC.
This year has seen Sonshine Ranch Christian Camp in Papakura, Auckland join the CCCNZ Heritage Camps. The camp is a traditional horse camp (hence the name) and has run holiday camps for many years. We look forward to the opportunity to develop this site further and to look for churches who will partner with them.
These are some of the stories that have come out of a difficult few years, but they are so encouraging as we move forward. Let’s consider how camping could look different to what it was in pre-pandemic times. It’s fair to say that Christian camping in New Zealand still provides for massive opportunity and evangelism. However, it is equally important that those who have recently put their trust in Jesus are discipled, taught through Scripture, and welcomed into the Body life of a local Christian community. This is the role of the Church.
Camps are also great development opportunities for young Christians who can share their faith with younger people and develop their leadership, evangelism, and pastoral gifts at the same time. Camps provide awesome training opportunities for our up-and-coming pastors and Christian leaders.
In order to see these things working, churches and camps need to be working much closer together—to see the local church grow in strength, and gospel opportunities grasped. We look forward to seeing these developing partnerships and prayerfully commit our campsites to God’s glory. If you’d love to know more about developing a partnership with a campsite near you, but don’t know where to start, we’d love to talk more.